In early December of 2006, a confluence of events caused a long-held dam to burst around my and my closest friend’s experience with our abortions (mine being 23 years earlier, in 1983, when I was 19).
I went looking online for Feminist Women’s Health Center in Los Angeles, the place that had treated me and the others who had come in need of their services with both grace and utter lack of condescention, and instead found a website belonging to one of its descendant organizations. On one of its pages I found diary posts thanking the organization on a variety of topics related to the clinic and reproductive health – but I will let the poem I felt compelled to write that evening upon arriving and hearing a telephone message from my best friend tell the rest of the story.
(Note: the reference to ‘gluten in the spaghetti’ is obscure and personal – I’ve long held a completely unsupported conception of space and time as being like a plate of spaghetti, all looping and with portions sticking to each other, rather than simply linear and directional.) (deep breath) here goes:
An Open Letter to Feminist Women’s Health Center
Gluten in the spaghetti brought me to the place I came half my life ago I read the poems hosted there But did not find my story
Among the songs and prose of joy and mourning Where were the words that said: I own this act?
I saw the hedging, the apologies, in the lyrical waxing about more ‘acceptable’ reproductive topics
And I became angry Where were those words, without which all others are wan excuses:
I own this act
I did not own the act that brought me there half my life and more ago Careless and sloppy about what I knew to be important
He was inebriated I did not know what love was
When, six weeks later Penny’s bulghur sent me running for the bathroom And I’d spent a week crying And I could not complete a circuit And the other person involved could be charitably described as ‘annoyed’ I had a blood test done And I made my decision
Proud is the wrong word But I certainly was not ashamed Sometimes the calculus is simple
‘Choice’ is such a pale word to describe an act of life or death But life and death is in the eye of the beholder
And at that moment it was her(?) life or mine
That was no hyperbole The calculus was simple So I got on a bus (And bounced a check)
On the way back I had ice cream Not to celebrate But furiously reclaiming my body
I was fitted with a cervical cap and vowed ‘never again’ When ‘never again’ was three years later I opted for a more permanent solution I never regretted that decision It allowed me to own my own life
And if there was a price, it was a bargain
Twenty-four years later, while at work, something told me to look up information on misoprostol and Google’s magic algorithm brought me back to Los Angeles I should have known it was the gluten doing its work
I got home from work last night and there was a message for me my best friend, my only cohort, with three grown children, and two grandchildren Denied a tubal ligation twice
Pregnant at 44 Put off and delayed by Planned Parenthood Had tried to reach me two weeks earlier while I was on the road Had dropped no clue as to what she was going through But had made her decision She owned her act in the most intimate way imaginable When she could not get help in an affordable, timely manner She ordered the meds herself, committed a Federal crime And did it at home
She was not proud But she was certainly not ashamed The calculus was not simple But it was hers
She put her process in a glass jar and examined it to be sure And mourned, and owned her act And moved on.
At last we talked last night, for four hours connecting our experiences, never discussed, over miles and decades
And made our peace with them And realized we were angry
Why are we ashamed to say those words, unambiguously? I own this act There is no room for shame, for excuses.
Not for this To fail to own our actions, and their rationale, fully
Allows others to define them for us And to define life and death, our life and death In the eye of the beholder.
We do not have to be proud But we cannot afford to be ashamed. The calculus is simple.
Deborah A. Dixon 5 December 2006
A week after writing this, an honors student of mine, also 19, came to see me with great trepidation about an unplanned pregnancy (and that she was going to have to travel some distance from our small border town in order to get the procedure done and she was afraid she was going to miss her final. I reassured her that we would work it out and to do what she needed to do. She visited me afterwards, pale and wan but otherwise well, and I was able, for the first time, to share my experience with another (via this poem) with her. As I said, a strange confluence of events (which has not repeated itself), and gluten in the spaghetti indeed. Thank you for hosting these messages and I hope they get wide exposure. It is imperative that we not deprive young women of their own agency in this matter.